China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Alexander Des Forges, Princeton University
Chair: Ying Hu, University of California, Irvine
Discussant: Keith McMahon, University of Kansas
The very diversity of terms used to designate nineteenth- and early twentieth-century China, from "late" (Imperial or Qing) to "modern" or "near" modern (jindai) betrays the frustrations that this period poses for neat metanarratives of literary or historical development. Over the last two decades, the study of jindai literature has begun to take institutional form in the Peoples Republic of China, with the establishment of a national research association and the publication of several massive reprint compilations. At the same time, historians of the period have initiated a move from questions of periodization to a concern (whether explicit or implicit) with the problematic relationship between "tradition" and "modernity."
On this panel, Hu Ying looks at the use of gender as an analytical tool in the study of the cultural history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; Alexander Des Forges reflects on the institution of jindai literature as a field; Peter Carroll examines the construction of the "modern" city; and Robert Chi puts the textual production of the period in comparative perspective.
These authors present recent developments in the study of jindai literature and culture in order to: (1) critique narratives of jindai development that structure scholarship in Chinese; (2) reflect critically on what is conceptualized in Western scholarship as "Late Qing literature" and "Late Imperial history"; and (3) challenge the utility of "modernity" (and "modernities") as a conceptual tool for the study of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chinese literature and history.
Hu Ying, University of California, Irvine
The central question this paper addresses is how "the womans place" functions as a crucial site for the construction of difference in inscribing tradition and modernity in Chinese studies. More specifically, I investigate the conjunction between the field of womens studies and that of jindai (late Qing) history in the last two decades.
Study of the late Qing has been challenged by a new field of scholarship in American academia in the study of women of late imperial China. Having unearthed a rich history of Chinese womens culture and thus repudiated the monolithic picture of traditional womanhood, this scholarship greatly complicates our understanding of the relationship between tradition and modernity, and of the relationship between China and the West. At the same time, western feminist theories have been introduced and widely debated in China. Several recent series of publications on womens history, in their packaging of scholarly works, reveal interesting traces of academic responses to both the ideological changes and the market forces. Given the long history of state-sponsored womens liberation and the repeated rewritings of womens history to suit specific political agenda over the years, this scholarship on women necessarily takes on a different agenda from scholarship on women in the West.
The recent history of studies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries suggests that "gender" as a research concept has made a real difference in the formation of the late Qing as a field of study, and indicates that there are significant differences in the applications of feminist insight in Chinese and American academies.
Alexander Des Forges, Princeton University
This paper traces attempts to establish jindai wenxue (literature from roughly 1840 to 1919) as an independent field of study in the Peoples Republic over the last two decades, with particular emphasis on the publication of reprint collections and reference works on the one hand, and on narrative literary histories and theoretical inquiries on the other.
By analyzing the organizational practices and the stated agendas of researchers compiling collections of reprinted primary texts like Zhongguo jindai wenxue daxi (19901997) and reference works like Zhongguo jindai wenxue da cidian (1995), I show how the field is constructed as an extensive, multi-dimensional, and well-ordered canonical system, going far beyond the four authors (Li Boyuan, Wu Jianren, Liu E, and Zeng Pu) valorized by Lu Xun and other early scholars.
Turning to narrative and thematic accounts of jindai wenxue published since 1980, I find two primary (and nearly mutually exclusive) paradigms of jindai literary production articulated: (1) as a process simultaneously anti-feudal and anti-imperialist; or (2) as an evolution of a humanist literature. In both cases, however, the jindai period is conceptualized as an important crossroads or transition, jindai literature is weighed in the balance and ultimately found qualitatively wanting, and the approach taken toward jindai texts is strongly conditioned by and refers back to present-day political concerns. Finally, this paper aims to demonstrate the ways in which the field of jindai wenxue can provide grounds for a critique of the present characterizations of "late Qing literature" central to Western language studies of the period.
Peter J. Carroll, Yale University
This paper will consider the changing deployment of the rubric "jindai" in historical scholarship, where it occupies a position of complex ambiguity. In the late 1980s, Chinese scholars questioned the ideological nature of dominant historical periodization, seeking to consider the "Modern" without the political orthodoxy imposed by the choice of the Opium War as the signal event initiating the "Modern Period." Since June 4th, however, the sensitivity of such openly ideological topics has effectively ended such discussion within China. There has been little subsequent interest in questions of periodization in China or the U.S.
The historiographic deployment of "jindai" has nevertheless been transformed. In both China and the U.S., scholars have begun to question the use of "jindai" as a simple chronological marker or evocative but uninterrogated descriptive term and focused on the project of writing histories of Chinese Modernity itself. Within this scholarship, the discursive, social, and physical spaces of "the city" and individual cities have been especially prominent. This urban bias partly reflects the view of cities as progressive elements in late Qing and Republican thought, but it also reflects the contemporary growth of cultural historical studies, which has given rise to this transformation of "jindai" from ascriptive category to historical subject. Given the history of historical scholarship in the U.S. and China, it is ironic that recent U.S. scholarship has generally been the more insistent in focusing on the essential role of imperialism in the creation of modernities in East Asia through the concept of "colonial modernities." This paper will conclude with reflections on the different approaches to urban modernity in U.S. and Chinese scholarship.
Robert Chi, Harvard University
The notion of jindai literature arises out of a broad historical periodization that encompasses politics, economics, society, and culture. Its clarification in recent years as an object of study can be seen as an attempt to critique the May Fourth-inspired master narrative that repressed it. This move itself is one of the many contemporary scholarly projectsin Western social theory, American and Latin American literatures, film studies, gender studies, and popular culture, to name a few othersaimed at recovering incomplete nascent modernities. At the same time, the term jindai itself is meaningful only retrospectively even as it is progressive and conscious of a non-dynastic historiographyor, in other words, even as it relies on its nearness to the modern. These semantic aspects highlight the function of jindai as a transitional concept, one that is constructed by cross-references along two dimensions: temporal (with respect to contemporary Chinese conditions) and "spatial" (with respect to contemporary Chinese studies in, for example, this country). Thus jindai studies is over-determined as a comparative project because of the necessity of modernity to its discourse and to its historical referent, and because of these formal cross-references. Specifically, jindai literary texts can be read for the ways in which they thematize and link, as well as repress, questions of literary history, discourse construction, hermeneutics, and perhaps comparativity itself. This last possibility may lead us back to face the question of the century: how to recognize postmodernity without uttering the word?